Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Nicest Pizzeria in the World

"Here try this slice while you're waiting." "You only ordered one slice? Have this one too." "Since you've never been here before, I wanted you try this." These are not statements you hear at a New York pizzeria. Free pizza? Generous employees? These would make sense if I was in some Italian grandmother's dining room.

Yet here I was in the middle of Astoria at Rizzo's Fine Pizza. They're known for their famous thin crust Sicilian square slices and evidently for their warm customer service. I only ordered one slice, but somehow I managed to eat three and was only charged for one. And at one point the owner noticed another customer's pizza and was worried it was too well done and offered another slice.

I work at The Modern, one of Danny Meyer's palaces of hospitality. It's not unusual for us to send out a complimentary dish for a customer to try. And we always hope the guests leave with a warm feeling having just experienced a really special night out. And that's just the feeling I had when I walked home from Rizzo's. I had a smile on my face and couldn't wait to go back.

I had been to Rizzo's before and had never been blown away by my experience, although a straight male friend of mine (who will remain nameless) admitted to being so taken by his experiences and interactions at Rizzo's that he somehow developed a man crush on the personable (and attractive) owner.

Customer service and man crushes are all well and good but I'm looking for the best pizza in NY, not the most hospitable pizzeria, so I'm going to get to the food.

My complimentary slice was their Bandiera, which was basically a regular round slice with a spinach artichoke mix on top. It reminded me very much of what Artichoke does, but this was so much better. The spinach artichoke dip was clearly homemade and fresh. The crust was crisp and buttery and worked well with the heaviness of the cheeses (both mozzarella and ricotta). If anything was wrong, the decadent combination of butter and cheese slightly overwhelmed the other flavors on the slice. This version also featured a little bit of tomato sauce.

The famous Sicilian square slice
featured more than a little bit of tomato sauce. This is a true tomato pie with just a bit of fresh mozzarella in the center and some grated parmesan. The cheese is gone before you know it and the slice becomes all about the sauce and the dough.

This is what Sicilian style pizza is - it's heavy on the sauce, light on the cheese, and all about the thin crust. Rizzo's has the crust down perfectly. It's the highlight of the pizza. The tomato sauce was blander than I remembered. Last time I was here, I remember a very bold herby spicy sauce. I wonder if the recipe changed with their re-modeling. Regardless, it was still tangy and held up to the rich crust but just not as bright as I had hoped.

The square slice took a little bit of time to reach my booth (this is what spawned the freebie). It was proof that my slice was fresh and extra time and love was put into it. If you're looking for sad lonely cold pizza sitting around taking up a bacteria collection, you'll have to go elsewhere.

I had really planned on only eating a single slice since it was late. But after all the free gifts and the rich, filling pizza, I did wish I was at an Italian grandmother's house and that I might be able to take a nap on her couch.

Is Rizzo's Fine Pizza the best pizza in NY? It gets a 7 out of 10 thanks to some amazing crust, fresh ingredients, and the nicest pizza staff you'll find on this side of the Hudson.

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